Her husband was clearing a cupboard. Then the unthinkable happened

Jill Foster
·5-min read
Alex Delaney on a memorial bench for her late husband Nic (Emma Marshall)
Alex Delaney on a memorial bench for her late husband Nic (Emma Marshall)

Alex Delaney watched her husband Nic being taken from the ambulance and wheeled into A&E on a stretcher. 

Nic, a 39-year-old IT developer had been fit and healthy until two days earlier, when he began to suffer breathing problems and his GP prescribed antibiotics. 

Alex was concerned, but presumed she would be by her husband’s bedside in a matter of minutes.

This, however, was the last time she saw him alive.

"In my wildest dreams I never thought he was going to die so I didn’t think much of it when the doctors ushered me to a side room while Nic was treated," says Alex, 37, who lives in Hackney, London. 

"Minutes earlier we’d been at home together. I’d been nagging him to clean out a cupboard but as he leant down, he collapsed and I called an ambulance."

Alex Delaney and her husband Nic on their wedding day (supplied, Alex Delaney)
Alex Delaney and her husband Nic on their wedding day (supplied, Alex Delaney)

"The First Responder suspected a panic attack but when an ambulance crew arrived, they thought it might be sepsis so we were rushed to hospital," continues Delaney.

"Within 20 minutes the doctors said I should call my family. Another twenty minutes later, I was told that Nic hadn’t suffered any pain but there was nothing more they could do – he was gone.

"I hadn’t even had the chance to say goodbye."

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Nic had died suddenly of a pulmonary embolism – a blood clot which had travelled from his leg up to his lungs. The cause is unknown and while rare, the latest statistics from the British Lung Foundation reveal it kills around 2,300 people a year. 

After a decade together – and four years of marriage – Alex found herself a widow at the age of only 34.

"It felt surreal," she says. 

"My father and my sister arrived shortly after and I made some awful joke about winning ‘the Terrible Year Award’. My father handed me a KitKat and asked me to eat it because he was worried I’d had no food. I remember eating one stick and thinking: ‘I’ve lost my entire future'."

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It was the bleakest of moments for Alex who had met Nic through the dating pages of a newspaper in 2008. They moved in together after six months, marrying in a villa in Tuscany in 2013.

"It’s a cliché but friends told us it was the perfect wedding day and it was," says Alex. 

"Nic was everything I wanted in a husband - attractive, fun, intelligent and suitably geeky. When we married, I had no doubt that he was the ‘one’, the ‘keeper’, the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with."

Read more: Recognising and dealing with grief is key to mental health during the pandemic

In the aftermath of Nic’s death, Alex says she learned some important lessons about grief and how people behave towards the newly bereaved.

"My family and friends were amazing immediately after he died," she says. "I was now a young widow and I said to them: ‘I’ll need you to take me out and to support me’ and some friends would take me out to dinner because I didn’t want to go to people’s houses and be around ‘happy families’. 

"But other friends would cry on me, not just because they were upset about Nic but because I represented their worst nightmare. I found that really painful.

"Others would avoid speaking about Nic or using his name and after the first few weeks, most people stopped contacting me. 

"It’s as if people get bored by the relentlessness of sadness or want to fix it, when they can’t. 

"I had one girlfriend who would always chat about him and use his name, remembering him in conversation and that was great. She didn’t mind if I spoke about him either. Feeling and being heard are the most important things when you’re grieving."

Read more: How parents can help a grieving child

Alex decided she needed to do something to help.

In January, she launched The Good Grief Gift Company to help not only those who are grieving but those who are supporting people through grief. 

"Lots of people choose to write a book but I wanted to do something really practical," she says. 

"So many people don’t know how to help, so we’ve thought of useful and thoughtful things you can do – such as ordering a subscription meal box or a cleaner. 

"But even if you don’t want to order anything, my main piece of advice is to keep in touch with the person grieving, sending the occasional WhatsApp message to ask if they’re alright, but not expecting a reply."

Today, Alex says she’s happy again. 

"I’ve moved forward with my life in lots of lovely ways," she says. "I’m in a relationship with a wonderful person who completely understands how much I loved Nic and accepts that he will always be a part of my life too. It took me three years but I’m back to myself now."

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